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We all know the famous Benjamin Franklin quote: “There are only two certainties in life – death and taxes;” but I think we can certainly say there are 3 certainties in life and things we can’t avoid: death, taxes AND change. And is it me or does it seem like the changes in our industry are dizzying?
Just when you feel like you’ve got one new thing figured out, the next bright, shiny, confusing object of our industry's affection comes along to rock your world. It seems like we’ve been in a constant state of ‘digital transformation’ and transition for over 10 years.
So for those of us who have lived in this space for more than 10 years, we should all be amazingly skilled at change management, right? We have fancy change management methodologies to follow, we hire fantastic project managers and setup PMO’s to track all the moving parts of the projects; but of course every project is different, and no system rollout is ever the same…the human element of change keeps us on our toes and requires we do more than put together a tight Gantt Chart.
Since people are at the heart of everything, it’s critical to ensure you’re supporting your staff through change. After many years of rolling out products and systems of all shapes, sizes, and complexities, these are the insights I’ve gained.
The Human Element of Change
The psychological impact of change cannot be underestimated. So while a solid project and change management plan is important, keeping a read on the key players on your project team, your stakeholders and your business leaders is essential. Most people do not like change, and resistance is a natural instinct. As our industry continues to roll out new systems, tools and projects, it is important to keep an eye on the aspects of human behavior that can affect the acceptance of change in your organization.
Ways to Keep People Connected & Engaged Throughout the Change
- Show your teams the big picture, and get folks excited! Everyone is motivated by different factors - identify how to communicate and connect to different groups. Show them how this new system/tool positively impacts them and their work.
- Clearly identify their role in the process, and understand what success looks like to them.
- Get folks invested in the process of change - give key players a seat at the table - gather ideas and suggestions - this will get people personally invested in the change and keep them working toward a successful outcome.
- Identify well-respected and knowledgeable cross-functional leaders to be part of the project team - they will be your day-to-day advocates outside of the regular project team members. There is always an Executive level champion who sponsors the project and communicates from the top down, but having business leads closer to the impacted teams is even more important to embed in the project.
- Execution is the key to success…great ideas are only that; ideas. Know the plan, work the plan; but be flexible with the details of the plan. Chunk up the work into digestible pieces so the transition becomes easier to swallow - large shifts all at once are much more difficult to tolerate.
- Communicate clear steps forward with measurable targets, incentives, measurements, and analysis. Make sure your project team is well equipped and has the resources they need to be successful. Communicate status often - encourage feedback and constructive criticism, and make adjustments accordingly - create a constant feedback loop.
- Onboard subject matter experts(SME’s), and get them involved early and often - utilize high potential talent and grow their skills by assigning them key tasks in the project.
- Listen and respond to challenges in a timely fashion - how you handle the early pains of transition will determine how quickly teams adapt and embrace the new method of working.
- Call on the Executive Management Champion at key moments throughout the project, to keep the team motivated through recognition. Reinforce the importance of the program.
- I always like to say that releasing a new product, system or tool to an organization isn’t the end of the project, it is literally just the beginning.
- The majority of system integrations fail upon execution and integration/acceptance into the day-to-day business workflow.
- A solid communication plan with clear steps of rollout, staff training and an aggressive feedback loop back to the project team after new users have been on-boarded is critical to acceptance and usage of any new change.
- While in rollout and feedback loop phase - celebrate and communicate small milestones and wins.
- In my experience, there needs to also be a safe haven to vent and unload frustration. This is especially true for those who have fatigue from being involved in the early stages of the project. These are usually your critical players on the project team, stakeholder leads and SME’s.
- It is extremely important that there is open and transparent communication, so project management and business owners can address challenges in real time by knowing what is truly happening ‘on the ground.’
- Resistance to change is normal and should be expected and planned for. Anticipating what leadership will need to address resistance is critical. Ensure they have whatever data points and talking points they need to keep key players informed and aware.
- Continue the feedback loop and revise/modify as necessary to ensure successful adoption of the change. The feedback loop honestly never ends, but the length of time for these loops grows longer. In the beginning, there will be constant feedback that has to be monitored and addressed timely, to ensure learning and adoption.
- As users work the new product into their daily rhythm, the feedback will be delivered less frequently. Then, the feedback loop will automatically turn into your ‘new features’ request list and can seamlessly roll into your yearly planning process for systems/IT discussions.
- And I love me a Post Mortem!! These are critical to learning what worked, what didn’t and what you would do differently next time. There should be some time allotted for the project team to decompress after a long project, but coming back together to review the learnings is a very powerful tool.
True Change is a Process, not a Project
Don't get so lost in the details of the project plan and change management protocol that you lose sight of the people. Be aware of what’s happening around you and how the project team and key players are behaving. Take lots of pulse checks on the team to ensure they are heard and supported. Keep your ear to the ground by staying connected to the people impacted the most. Don’t shy away from critical feedback, and promptly address concerns.
Ensure there is transparency in the communication plan and a safe vehicle for folks to bring issues to the forefront. Real, lasting change takes time: investigate/research > plan > execute > listen > be patient > educate > partner > empower > praise > rinse and repeat.